The American Horror Revival

Over the last several months, I’ve been working on curriculum for a horror literature and film adaptation class, so I’ve been revisiting a lot of film theory articles and essays on horror, and while doing so, I’ve been musing about all of the recent interesting, memorable horror movies that have come out in the last two-three years. There is the old theory that horror does well during periods of national anxiety. Stephen King talks about this in his collection of essays on the genre entitled Danse Macabre. Probably the easiest example of think of is the last great period in American horror, the 1960s/1970s, which saw the releases of Night of the Living Dead, Last House on the Left, Halloween, The Exorcist, Jaws, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among others. Out of all the films, I find Texas Chainsaw the most interesting, and upon re-watching it recently, I found it even more brilliant and more disturbing. I also realize now why the film is cited so much in countless essays on the genre. The low-budget film has no soundtrack, so instead, the viewer is confronted with sounds of flies buzzing, reports of violent stabbings or shootings that come through the radio in various scenes, and of course, Leatherface’s chainsaw. It is one of the most apocalyptic films I can name, and one that upends the norms for the horror genre, in that the traditional social order is not re-established by the conclusion. Sure, Sally lives, but Leatherface is not conquered, nor is his sadistic family. They all live, and the end shot is Leatherface doing a mad, frantic dance with his chainsaw beneath a blazing Texas sun. If there ever was an apt metaphor for the violence, upheaval and chaos of the 1960s/1970s, that film is it.

This brings me to the point I want to make: the American horror film genre is undergoing a renaissance right now, and it’s worth attention. Like Texas Chainsaw, Halloween, and Night of the Living Dead, many of the more interesting contemporary American horror films are indies. Specifically, I am thinking of It Follows, The Witch, Get Out, and the latest, It Comes at Night.

Like their predecessors from the 1960s and 1970s, the films also have social and political undercurrents. 2014’s It Follows deals with the perils of adolescent sex, and it can be viewed through a conservative or liberal lens, depending on your own personal political bend. 2015’s The Witch, set in Puritan New England, feels even more relevant in the era of Trump and the Women’s March because it deals with the power of female sexuality. Beyond that, however, it is one of the most atmospheric films I have seen in recent memory. This year’s Get Out is the biggest success of any of these films, and it smashed records for a black director. It deals with race in a nuanced way and addresses the hypocrisy sometimes evident in white progressives who often fashion themselves open-minded and liberal.

This brings me to the newest film of the bunch, It Comes at Night. After viewing it last night, I’m still thinking about it and frustrated by aspects of it. The film was released by A24 studios, which also released The Witch and 2016’s The Green Room, which  I should include on this list, because, like the other films, it deals with the horror that comes from within/humanity. Like those other films, It Comes at Night is atmospheric and does not rely on blood and guts. The film is primarily set in a house and follows a family of three in a post-apocalyptic world. They wear gas masks, though we’re never sure why, if there is some contagion in the air. We don’t even know why society collapsed. We’re dropped in the middle of of everything. The family encounters another family of three, and by the conclusion, everyone turns on each other, raising questions about human nature and if we’d  be able to pull together and survive if there was some global disaster. Parts of the film do capture the current moment in American society, especially our fear of the other, be it immigrants or people who may hold different viewpoints than us. You can even view the symbolism of the gas masks as a warning of some climate change catastrophe that is yet to come.

The film does not rely on gotch-ya scares, but instead the tone is set through creaky floorboards, sprawling shots of the forest surrounding the house, which also feels suffocating, and repeating images of a red door, which seems to symbolize the bridge between death and life. For the most part, we see everything through 17-year-old Travis’ (Kelvin Harris Jr.) eyes. We also witness his dreams, which are visceral and include boils and puss on his hands, black goo spewing from his mouth, and visions of his dead grandfather, Bud. This calls to question whether or not Travis is infected, and whether or not there is actually an illness, or if Travis’ father, Paul (Joel Edgerton), merely uses that fear to keep everyone in line.

It Comes at Night is a film that will stay with you after the credits conclude, and it is forceful in its statements about human violence. That said, I did need a little more to go on, especially regarding the contagion, if it was even real. The conclusion, meanwhile, can be interpreted in a number of ways, and I’m not going to give it away here because the film builds to it so well, beat by beat.

It Comes at Night follows a pattern, a new wave in American horror, one that doesn’t rely on blood, guts, and gore, but rather on establishing tone, mood, and atmosphere and not having a huge budget to do so. All of these films have a social and political undercurrent, and in that regard, they also mirror the last great wave of American horror cinema. There is something happening right now in the American horror film genre, and it’s worth paying attention to, especially since the future of the American political system, or the planet, for that matter, is uncertain.

 

 

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Sharing a little bit of news

It’s been a while, and as summer begins, I’ve had my nose in books, reading, writing, and even working on some new curriculum, too. That said, I want to share some good news.

First, I was just informed by the managing editor of Crab Orchrad Review, that my latest book of poems, Waiting for the Dead to Speak, won the 2017 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award for poetry! As part of the award, I will be attending a literary festival at the university to partake in  panel and reading!

Some other news: many thanks to Jason Allen for this thoughtful review of my work that he published in the new issue of The Paterson Literary Review. You can read it here.

Lastly, Two Hawks Quarterly published two of my poems in the most recent issue, which you can read here.

 

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In Consideration of M.F.A. Programs, Contemporary American Poetry, Working workshops

Recently, I had the chance to interview Ray Hammond, editor of the New York Quarterly and NYQ Books, for the Schuylkill Valley Journal. More specifically, we talked about his book, Poetic Amusement, which addresses the proliferation of M.F.A. programs, writing workshops, and creative writing departments. We also talked about American poetry in the age of Trump. I think it is well-worth the read, as Ray offers some honest opinions about the effectiveness of writing workshops and the publish or perish mindset that is part of creative writing departments.

Full disclosure: I completed my M.F.A. in 2010, and for me, it was a worthwhile experience that gave me the space and time to write, as well as a community of writers; that said, I do think there are some serious points to consider in this interview.

Click here to read the interview.

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A Poem about Zombies!

Over the last few months, I’ve written a series of poems about horror movies. This came about because I am working on a horror literature and film adaptation course, so for a month or two, I revisited a number of film theory articles and horror movies. All of this reading rubbed off on my poetry and gave me a new project. The poems have also given me the space to deal with the age of Trump in my own way, through writing. Horror, when done well, can be a metaphor for national or global anxieties and fears. I have a personal connection to the genre, too. Growing up, I watched old horror movies with my dad, and it was a chance to bond with him, especially since I didn’t like sports. This poem is about Night of the Living Dead, one of his favorites. Most haunting to me about the film is the last two minutes.

Check out the poem, published by Gravel, here.

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Writers’ Showcase THIS Saturday

The Writers Showcase Spring 2017 (1)-page-001

 

If you’re around the Scranton area this Saturday, I encourage you to attend the Writers’ Showcase. We have a fantastic line-up of authors who will be sharing their work. Here are their bios:

Amanda J. Bradley is the author of three books of poems: Queen Kong (2017), Oz at Night (2011), and Hints and Allegations (2009). She has published poetry and essays in many journals including Paterson Literary Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Kin Poetry Journal, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, and Poetry Bay. Amanda is a graduate of the MFA program at The New School, and she holds a PhD in English and American Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. She is an Assistant Professor at Keystone College outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Barbara J. Taylor has an MFA in creative writing from Wilkes University. Her latest novel, All Waiting Is Long, is the sequel to her debut novel, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night, named a “Best Book of Summer 2014” by Publishers Weekly. In addition to writing, Barbara has been teaching high school English for 30 years.

Al Manorek is an aspiring writer and poet originally from Shavertown. He is an active member of NEPA Creative Writers and the Game Chateau Writers. He enjoys performing at various local
open mics throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. He was drawn to writing at the tender age of twelve when he began writing short stories and poetry. He loves working as a Regional Substitute Teacher for Bright Horizons Family Solutions. He is an avid home brewer and professionally guest bartenders for friends in need.

Heather Harlen is the author of the Marina Konyeshna thriller series (Northampton House Press). SHAME, SHAME, I KNOW YOUR NAME is the second book in the thrillogy. Heather was born and raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania and has coal dust in her blood, so this series takes place in the Wilkes-Barre area. She earned an M.A. in creative writing from Wilkes University and currently teachies high school English in Allentown. Her writing has been featured in publications such as Hippocampus and Yoganonymous. Find out more at www.heatherharlen.com.

Robert Fillman won the poetry contest at the 2016 Pennsylvania Writers Conference at Wilkes University and has been featured as a “Showcase Poet” in the Aurorean. Recently, his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Blueline, Chiron Review, Off the Coast, Pembroke Magazine, Spillway, and others. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate and Teaching Fellow at Lehigh University, where he also edits the university literary magazine, Amaranth, and runs the Drown Writers Series. He lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife, Melissa, and their two children, Emma and Robbie.

Authors will have books for sale, too!

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Two Award-Winning Poets Visiting the Region

If you’re in NEPA, there are two events worth checking out this week. Two poetry heavyweights are giving FREE readings! First, Maria Mazziotti Gillan is reading at Keystone College, in Evans Hall, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

Here is her bio:

Ms. Gillan has published 21 books, most recently the poetry collection What Blooms in Winter (NYQ, 2016) and the poetry collection with some of her paintings, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets (Redux Consortium). She is the founder and executive director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, Paterson, N.J. and editor of the Paterson Literary Review. Ms. Gillan is also director of the creative writing program and professor of poetry at Binghamton University-SUNY. She is the recipient of many awards for poetry and service to the literary community. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, New Letters, The New York Times, Poetry Ireland, Connecticut Review, The Los Angeles Review, The Christian Science Monitor, LIPS, and Rattle, as well as numerous other journals and anthologies.

Second, Yusef Komunyakaa is reading at Binghamton University this Thursday evening. For his bio and details about the reading, click here.

We’re lucky to have two big names and wonderful poetry advocates visiting this region within a day of each other.

 

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Philadelphia Writers Conference and Interview

I don’t usually promote conferences and residencies on this blog because there are SO many of them, and it’s hard to keep track. However, I do like to promotes ones that are semi-local, and more importantly, affordable. I became aware of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference when my friend Uriah became a board member a few years ago. I dug in and researched the conference more, trying to see how it differed from the hundreds upon hundreds of others writers conferences that exist throughout the U.S.  Here is where I think it differs: its focus is multi-genre, with a heavy emphasis on bettering one’s craft.  It has several panels and workshops dedicated to craft. So, essentially, it is not just a place to pitch ideas to agents or hawk a poetry manuscript. Sure there is some of that, but there is also a lot of attention given to strengthening one’s skills. If you take the time to attend some of the workshops, you’ll leave with additional tools and ideas, not just business cards.

If you’re looking to attend something in PA and visit my favorite U.S. city (Philly), then check out the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. You can still register, too.

In the meantime, if you want, you can check out this video interview I did with Uriah, on behalf of the conference, as a means to talk about writing and poetry.

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